OFF THE PATH
Dismal River is located outside of Mullen Nebraska. It is an remote private golfing and hunting club with two great courses.
The White Course was designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 2006. It is an interesting course that shares characteristics with other Nicklaus courses but also has dramatic differences. It is said the White Course project required the least amount of dirt movement across the entire Jack course design portfolio which make sense when playing the course. It has bold and distinctive routing through rolling sand country hills with many elevated and blind shots, and undulated greens that look like the course grass was literally just laid over the existing landscape. You rarely feel like you are hitting an approach shot or putt on a flat surface. It is also minimalistic with a natural sand base and dune feel that is not overly manicured. There are other unique elements including a windmill in front of the #4 par 5 green and bunker located in the middle of the 10th green with two bowl complexes in front and behind the bunker.
The first thing that will throw you off guard when playing the White Course is to get to the first tee you need to take a mile journey from the clubhouse down a country dirt road. When you step on the first tee box you will quickly notice the significant elevation shifts you will be encountering throughout the round.
The course will challenge nearly every aspects of your game, especially if the wind is howling: longer carries often put you in greatly improved places for approaches; placement is a important to give you better angles to many greens and better views for blind shots; many of your shots will require ability to strike off an endless variety of different angled lies; speed and alignment putting control is needed for many slope putts; ball trajectory is advantageous to reduce wind impact; and different types of chips are needed to cover obstacles and position your ball for an advantageous putt. That being said it is fun and conquerable if you can bring your A game and successfully navigate a few risk/reward shots that provide great scoring opportunities. It's also a course the grows on you. After having a better grasp of the formidable course setup we were eager to properly armed for our second round and found the challenge quite enjoyable.
Can't forget a great bonus of the White Course. It has a 19th hole (no not to drink) but to settle any lingering battles. Very cool!
GO BIG HOLES
The Red Course was designed by Tom Doak and opened in 2013. While its not quite a ying/yang relationship between the White and Red its pretty close. The Red Course is has wider fairways, less elevation change and larger more subtle green complexes. Doak is one of our favorite architects due to his minimalistic style of maximizing the natural terrain to setup world class routing and design elements.
To get to the Red Course you will need to also take a dirt road adventure. When arriving at the first tee you will immediately see the unique and beautiful course layout through the sand hill topography. You will also notice there are no formal tee boxes but general areas where tees are placed providing greater flexibility in course setup.
As you're round gets underway you will quickly feel comfortable if you have played other Doak courses and also be prepared ongoing routing changes that perfectly compliment and enliven the natural landscape. We were very impressed with the creative transitions and variety that keep your mind strategically engaged with various game plan options throughout the round.
As mentioned above the fairways are ample allowing you to rip the driver with several fun risk/reward par 4 driving opportunities and reachable par 5s. While distance can provide you with strong scoring benefits it was still ultimately control that led to the best scores in our groupings. The placement off of the tees provided notable benefits to approach lies, views and angles on many holes where there is copious danger present around the green complexes. Natural curated (some nasty) and strategic bunkers are regularly in play. Lastly, the wind is always present and when its whipping it will require flighting and spin control to avoid waste areas.
The highlight of the Red Course is the finishing six holes that drop down into valley by the Dismal River with a . These six holes rival the greatest finishes in golf anywhere in the world. Local knowledge is massively beneficial in this stretch with blind shots, heavy sloped fairways and penalizing run-outs so if you aren't playing with a member make sure to take some approach notes beforehand. You will feel energized after wrapping up 18, especially if you finished strong!
Another pro of Dismal is the large rustic themed clubhouse with great amenities including large meeting and dinning entry; bar area with seating and TVs; private dinning; TV lounge with recliners and multiple large TVs; game room; golf simulator; pro shop; and large outdoor entertainment and seating area overlooking the Dismal River valley and Red Course. Compliments to the head cook as well who prepared excellent hearty meals and the staff was friendly and on-top of any need.
No doubt its a trek to get to Dismal but you will truly enjoy the experience.
GO BIG HOLES
ON THE LINKS
Spanish Bay doesn't get the accolades of its world famous Monterey Peninsula siblings but make sure to include this fun coastal course in your Monterey golf trip. Another benefit of Spanish Bay compared to other Monterey Peninsula courses is its less expensive and easier to secure desirable tee-times.
Spanish Bay Links is a links course (duh!) set along the ocean in natural sand dunes with firm conditions. The primary course architect was Robert Trent Jones, Jr. who also received guidance from Tom Watson and Frank "Sandy" Tatum. The course opened in 1987 becoming the 4th 18 hole course of the Pebble Beach Golf Company in Monterey Peninsula.
Come prepared knowing there is only a small chipping and putting practice area so you won't be able to fine tune the entire game on a range. You will also likely be teeing off in front of an audience enjoying a beverage or waiting in the queue. The first hole is a par five that although it is reachable in 2 (risk/reward type of shot required) a 3 shot strategy will still give you a good chance to birdie since the 3rd shot approach should be quite short with easy angle into green. So what I am getting at is you can take a nice easy swing off hole 1 tee (driver not even required) to quickly alleviate any anxiety and still give yourself a good chance to score.
The track was a ton of fun, challenging but not difficult with a great variety of hole layouts. To score you need the ability position your ball, and hit clean shots off tight and undulated lies. Other beneficial areas to practice up before playing include wind shots and heavy slope putting. While the green complexes have some significant contours they play true and aren't wicked fast with harsh penalties for getting above the pin.
The course was in great shape and well manicured with pure tight fairways, fringes and greens, and admirable bunkering. Its primary defenses are weather (wind and rain), steep and undulated green complexes, and a few longer carries over environmental obstacles and wetlands.
Its not a long course with significant elevation changes so walking is recommended and will enhance taking in the fabulous scenery, coastal holes and lively wetlands.
A caddie is recommended as there are a few holes with concealed and deceptive shot lines, and the greens will require sharp reads for approaches and putting. Our caddie and the staff were professional, friendly, enjoyable helping boost the overall experience.
Our final word on Spanish Bay is its truly an enjoyable round of fun and challenging golf with exceptional views and oceanfront holes. Stick around in the evening for the bagpiper as an extra bonus.
GO BIG HOLES
1, 3, 5, 10, 14, 15, 18
ON THE LINKS
Cypress Point is a golf masterpiece ranked by many as a top 5 course in the world! Located on the tip of Monterey Peninsula in the Santa Lucia Mountains. It is a highly exclusive private club that if the invite occurs jump on it.
The course founders were Byington Ford, Roger Lapham and Marion Hollins. They hired Seth Reynor to design the course but unfortunately he passed away providing an opportunity for signature golf architect Dr Alister MacKenzie to lend his genius. The course opened in 1928.
When planning to play Cypress you will quickly notice it isn't a long course. Cypress made a conscious decision to maintain its original magical character rather than renovate like many other courses to mitigate modern longer hitting technology. Cypress has also taken additional steps to ensure its rich historic feel and traditions stays true by restoring the distinct original MacKenzie bunkering and dunes; and maintaining a timeless clubhouse.
The property is jaw dropping and the course is a memorable adventure through the Del Monte Forest, dunes and stunning rocky coastline and ocean views. MacKenzie perfectly fused the course routing and design to embody the one-of-a-kind landscape.
Its a strategy course that provides golfers with a variety of shot choices based on the differing hole layouts and risk/reward decisions. While most know of Cypress for its iconic coastline holes the interior holes are also gems.
Hole #1 can be a bit intimidating as members, guests and caddies are watching waiting for their upcoming tee time. It also has a unique hedge in front of the tee box (shown in pictures) that throws off your perspective. Don't worry about the hedge, hammer one down there as it is one of the longer holes and a closer approach is helpful to avoid a three put on the large green complex. Hole #5 is very distinct with tiered uphill slopes.
To courses primary defenses are wind, precision, bunkers and ability to focus with beautiful distracting scenery always in clear sight. The ocean does come into play especially on the signature hole 16 where you need a hefty carry over it to reach the green. Go big if you're playing cypress and don't take the bail out route.
The 17th tee box has brilliant views of the ocean and the picturesque 16th and 17th holes. There are several trees in the middle of the fairway that can come into play on your approach shot requiring you to devise a plan on the tee.
The 18th has been a polarizing hole due to a quote by Jimmy Demarest who said "Cypress is the best 17 hole course in the world". He was not a fan of 18. We understand Jimmy's perspective but would disagree as if this hole was on many other courses it wouldn't be frowned upon. It is also a challenging hole so its no layup heading into the clubhouse.
The course will surpass your expectations. It captures all the best elements of golf and is extremely fun. We are all in if the invite is kindly provided again.
GO BIG HOLES
1, 2, 5, 6, 10, 16, 17
ON THE LINKS
Hello central Oregon! A must visit for any person with a hint of passion for the outdoors. It is nestled between the Cascades to the west and the Ochoco Mountains covering three primary counties Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook. The largest city is Bend with ~90,000 residents. It is an arid high desert climate with an abundance of sun unlike western Oregon.
Located in Sunriver resort about 15 minutes outside of Bend, Crosswater is ranked 28 by Golf Digest of Americas top 100 Greatest Golf Courses. It is a blast to play with a unique and challenging course layout that is encompassed by stunning scenery. The course was opened in 1995 with course design by Robert Cupp. When it opened it was ranked as Americas Best Resort Course and was the longest course in the US. The course has hosted several PGA Professional National Championships and a Senior Major Championship.
The course takes you on a journey through woodlands, meadows and marshlands with the Deschutes and Little Deschutes rivers regularly coming into play. As stated above it is a long course from the tips so you need your driver to be hitting on all cylinders and dial in the long approaches to score low. The pin positions were also difficult forcing you to make tough risk/reward decisions throughout the round. Water and bunkers are also regularly in play and the course seemingly tightens as the round progresses brining the longer grass challenges into play. The good news is the course is fair and landing zones are ample if you are able to control your shots distance and placement.
It is a course you will immediately want to play again as you are sure to encounter shots you wish you would have taken a different route or flat out paid a stiff penalty by taking on the risk.
Overall it was a highly enjoyable round with fun and challenging golf complimented by expansive riverfront stretches and panoramic mountain vistas.
GO BIG HOLES
2, 5, 6, 12, 16, 17
ON THE LINKS
Located about 30 minutes outside of Bend, Pronghorn is a secluded exclusive resort with two top notch golf courses designed by Fazio and Nicklaus. The resort was initially private but has since opened the Nicklaus course to the public.
We played the signature Nicklaus course which was ranked #2 Best Private Courses when it opened in 2004 and maintains a top 30 ranking in US Public Courses. The course is long ~7,400 yards from the tips but doesn't feel that long due to the variety of hole designs with varying lengths.
Pronghorn setting feels completely different than lush Crosswater's with rivers and marshes. The landscape is true arid high-desert with plenty of scrub, waste areas and volcanic rock. The course is craftily manicured, well maintained with beautiful hole layouts and terrific scenery surrounding the course.
It is a demanding course with true penalties for poor shots. Bring out the artillery shells off the tee as length helps more favorable approaches. The plus is the tee landing areas are largely generous. The negative with bombing is if you aren't in control you will find yourself with difficult forced carries onto the greens.
The green complexes were pristine, fair and putting speed was fast but true. The challenge with the greens comes back to the approach. You will find yourself with long puts if you put yourself in a bad approach position that only provides safe access to parts of the green where the pin is seldom located.
There are a few perfectly designed risk reward holes. Our favorite was hole 13 with a lake on the right side and skinny green protected by water in front and bunkers on the back. A long drive on the fairway to the left provides a significantly easier approach where you can safely utilize the green to reach the pin that was tucked in the back.
Overall we really enjoyed the challenge of Pronghorn and would highly suggest adding this course to a central Oregon golf trip.
GO BIG HOLES
2, 4, 8, 11, 15, 16, 18
ON THE LINKS
Pebble Beach is a contradiction to the popular idiom "there are plenty more pebbles on the beach". There is no substitute for Pebble Beach which is long and rightfully considered one of the grandest pebbles in the golf world.
Pebble Beach origins date back to 1880 under the vision of Charles Crocker. The Hotel del Monte was the first development on this marvelous complex with a nine hole course, The Del Monte Course, that opened in 1897 and was later extended to a 18 hole course in 1903. While golf was an attraction of the property the "17 Mile Drive" was major selling point providing a breathtaking scenic drive through Monterey, Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach. To clarify by drive we mean a horse drawn carriage day long adventure.
Pebble Beach was opened in 1919 with free course design by two amateurs Jack Neville and Douglas Grant. The legendary figure 8 routing was established to maximize the number of holes along the coastline. The property has changed hands several times and the course has also undergone updates throughout the years. Famous names involved in the course updates include Alistar Mackenzie and most recently Jack Nicklaus. Another fun fact about ownership is the current owners Pebble Beach Company was formed under a limited partnership interest with key partners including Arnold Palmer, Clint Eastwood and Peter Ueberroth. The intention of the Pebble Beach purchase was to ensure the property wouldn't continue to change hands and the heritage and traditions of the property were upheld for future generations to enjoy. They have also been trying unsuccessfully to expand the "Del Monte Forest Plan" with a new course and housing development.
Nearly immediately after Pebble opened it received worldwide recognition as a premier golf course. Pebble has hosted five US Opens amongst with the sixth coming in 2019 and a seventh in 2027. It also has an annual PGA tour stop and has hosted a long list of other notable tournaments. It is also now part of an elite group of courses that include Spyglass Hill Golf Course, Del Monte Golf Course and Links at Spanish Bay.
Pebble is a public course but it requires a hefty check ($550) to gain access to the first tee and desired tee times often require purchase of a complete resort package. Your best bet if you want to pass on the resort package is to play as a single and select dates with lower demand including the offseason and holidays.
The nerves may be a bit jittery on the first tee with onlookers and dream course anxiety pumping the adrenaline. Step back and take a moment breath with a few smooth jazz practice swings that you can simple repeat when in striking position. The good news is isn't a long or difficult hole so smashed pure shot is not necessary. You will quickly find the relaxed state of mind when walking to your tee shot and observing the peaceful and stunning setting.
Pebble is a "target" golf course with narrow fairways and greens based on modern standards. That being said it isn't tight and errant shots are normally still in play. The course is beautifully manicured and the majestic coastal views are unparalleled. The rich and famous mansions linning several holes are also enjoyable sightseeing.
The courses primary defenses are small greens and wind. The greens and approaches are also inconsistent likely due to poa annua and heavy play (~60K rounds a year).
Holes seven through ten are arguable best consecutive grouping of holes a player will experience. There are other exceptional and highly acclaimed holes, and candidly ordinary holes but nothing that disappoints.
To score well try your best to keep your mind in the game and not distracted from endless array of stunning visuals. It is a target course so utilize course management to stay on ideal lines for easier and well positioned approaches to the smaller green complexes.
A caddie is a worthwhile investment to help with lines, reads and distances that can't be accurately gauged by first time eyes. Golf carts are permitted but its path only so plan on regular long walks to and from your ball. Unfortunately, carts can't be utilized as a time savings measure due to slow play discussed below.
It is also important to keep in mind and set expectations the round will be slow. As stated above it is heavily played due to its golf meca stature and it attracts all levels of golfers who want to cross it off their bucket list and take plenty of pictures. The Old Course at St Andrews has a similar slow pace although I noticed the caddies have a wee bit more hustle in pushing play potentially due to what appeared to be regular course marshal oversight.
WYLD1 puts high emphasis on the complete golf experience which factors in the role of nature in the course makeup. The stunning views and specifically the coastal front holes are unbelievable helping elevate it to one of the golf untouchables.
GO BIG HOLES
2, 6, 9, 10, 14, 15, 18
The word "yes" is an automatic if the coveted words "Pine Valley" are in a phrase that includes "invite". Why you ask if you don't know of Pine Valley. The answer is simple it is always ranked in the top 5 courses with several years receiving the #1 in the world ranking. In addition the private club is very exclusive and the membership base is small making an invite arguable harder to get than Augusta.
Pine Valley is located in Camden County in southern New Jersey. It was founded in 1913 by a group of golfers from Philadelphia who purchased the property it resides on today. They selected George Crump to design this famed course in the heavily forested rolling hills with sandy base.
Haven't heard the name Crump before in golf architecture? That is because this was his first and only course he designed. It may have been his last because it was beast to build and required him to sell his hotel to help finance it. To build Pine Valley they had remove 22,000 trees and drain marshlands in a remote area. Keep in mind Crump didn't have the conveniences of modern machinery and infrastructure. Horses were heavily relied to help with the course construction.
While Crump was the lead architect he smartly did receive experienced input from Hugh Wilson, Thomas Jr, Walter Travis A.W. Tillinghast, and H.S. Colt. Part of what makes the course so special is Crumps unique vision with extensive space between holes; changing routing through the Pines; and differing holes lengths and layouts that require the player to utilize their entire set of clubs.
In 1914 the initial 11 holes were completed. Unfortunately, Crump passed away in 1918 before he could see his masterpiece completed in 1919. Adjustments have occurred to the course since and a par 3 course, The Short Course, designed by Tom Fazio and Ernest Ransom III was later added.
The clubhouse is comfortable, rustic and simple. The property also includes a variety of lodging types for members and guests including cottages and houses. The attitudes and spirit of the club are welcoming and amiable. Everyone at Pine Valley is simply there to play golf and have fun.
An intriguing background always helps to the lure of the course but at the end of the day its the course that ultimately defines its justification of a top ranked world course. When analyzing what makes Pine Valley special is that its the ultimate challenge. Every hole is a unique masterpiece requiring the player mentally and physically demonstrate excellence to score well. The slope rating of 155 gives you an idea of the type of precise demands that are required to successfully conquer the pines.
Here are some additional insights into the demur of Pine Valley. The course is tightly lined with trees that both create challenges with errant shots and shot selection. A high percentage of these trees have grown in since the original course buildout stimulating ongoing dialogue if they should be removed or thinned out to return the course to its original vision. The somewhat good news is that there is no OB so if you can find your ball in the trees and pull off some magic in getting out the dreaded double bogey can be avoided.
Bunkers are a true penal and it has plenty with its sand base with some wicked one's who rightfully are vulgarly named including the "The devil's asshole". The bunkers also don't have rakes so dirty lies are abundant. And it doesn't stop there. Add in carry requirements, elevation change and tight greens with significant undulation that require ultimate precision in fairway placement to achieve ideal approach angles with distance and position control. I think you get the picture of the difficulties of the course without any weather elements coming into play.
So what did a group of low handicap players shoot? Lets just say with the added variable of wind nobody came close to breaking 80 and the high scores were high.
What make Pine Valley different than other high slope courses that were purely built to punish golfers is that the course is unique, beautiful, enjoyable and the challenge is fair and good play is rewarded. Over the course of multiple rounds you are eager to play again in attempt to play your best, demonstrate mastery of varying shot types and triumph (albeit it may just be on a few of the holes).
The entire experience and certainly the golf experience also bolster Pine Valley. As aforementioned the property is secluded and the course layout is spacious. You are able to leave the stresses and hustle of normal life; settle into a slower pace where senses of your surrounding become more acute; you gain elevated focus on your game; and camaraderie with your group becomes paramount.
The ethos of WYLD1 is To Find New Ground. There are two elements that make this ethos special to us. The first is a mental to challenge yourself to break barriers and do things different than the pack. The second is to seek new experiences in new places and to literally put your feet on new ground. Golf is distinct in that nature plays a pivotal role in the game with every course having unique elements and challenges dictated by the surrounding land. While ocean vistas are a common element that augments many top ranked courses, Pine Valley can surmount because it is simply that good and its character is exceptional.
WYLD1 not surprisingly agrees and leaves no doubt that Pine Valley should be ranked amongst the best of the best. Drop everything if the invite is graciously extended to Pine Valley and make this immortalized golf experience a reality you can talk about for the rest of your life.
GO BIG HOLES
2, 4, 7, 11, 12, 15, 17
ON THE LINKS
There is no hidden secret knowledge at Chambers Bay. When you step on the golf course the distinctness of Chambers grand features is squarely viewable.
Located outside Tacoma Washington, Chambers Bay was originally a rock quarry dating back to 1832. Since its quarry origins Chambers constantly shifted to for a variety of manufacturing and recreation purposes, ultimately, shaping into the golf course there today. The property in total is 950 acres bordering the Puget Sound shores with 250 of the acres making up the course.
In 1992 Pierce County bought the land and later selected Robert Trent Jones, Jr as the architect. It was a major endeavor to build the course with 1.4 million cubic yards of land sculpted to form its current layout. The result of this hard work is a boldly distinct course. It is a true links course near water with sand base and open natural layout. In 2007 it opened as a public municipal course.
Chambers quickly gained notoriety with winning bids to host the 2010 US Amateur and 2015 US Open. Unfortunately, the notoriety wasn't only focused on the great competition that dramatically ended on the US Open 72nd hole but for its rough greens that tormented pros. There complaints won out as the course was shut down in 2018 to update the green from fescue to smoother poa annua.
You will arrive at the clubhouse which sits above the course immediately allowing you to quickly take in stunning panoramic views. From there you will hop on a shuttle to the practice area. Make sure to hit a few puts to get a handle on the speed. It is walking only but isn't a walk in the park so be prepared to break a sweat and wear comfortable shoes. Caddies are available and extremely helpful for helping approach ideal landing areas and green reading.
Don't hold back off the tees. The course is long and wide with generous fairway and green landing areas. The fairways are also hard providing plenty of rollout making it feel shorter. The difficulties occur through the elevation changes, carry-overs, undulated greens and waste areas present throughout the course.
Low scoring requires you to make a big swing where risk-reward opportunities present themselves and to make smart and creative decisions on approaches making the most out of the land. Just as important take note of where you don't want to end up on the large green complexes or three puts will be plentiful.
Overall Chambers Bay is a fantastic experience. The course is fun, challenging and rewarding. Walking a true links style course with brilliant views always releases an indescribable spiritual feeling that is elevated when experiencing with good friends. Lastly, there is always a little extra excitement added to a round that has hosted a major championship where you can recall crazy lines pros took and key shots made.
We are an advocate of Chambers Bay!
GO BIG HOLES
1, 4, 7, 8, 9, 13, 18
ON THE LINKS
Having Bel-Air in your title immediately makes a strong statement. The club was established in 1925 with original course design by George Thomas who also served as the architect of its LA siblings Riviera and L.A.C.C. The original course was 9 holes and later extended through a uniquely placed bridge that allowed it access additional land and complete the 18 hole current layout. The course has undergone several alterations with a host of designers. The latest update was led by Tom Doak in 2018 who restored many of the holes iconic components. The course is ranked by several as top 100; hosted the 1976 U.S. Amateur; and is home to the UCLA Bruins golf teams.
Upon arrival you will immediately notice the distinct LA architecture feel and charm of the clubhouse which is set for renovations in the near future. The membership and staff have an every day is sunny in Southern California welcoming spirit that quickly makes you feel welcomed and pumped for the upcoming round. I would suggest to give yourself amble time before and after the round to take in the full experience and eliminate any feeling of needing to rush.
When you step foot outside the clubhouse you will be taken by the views and notice the course layout has significant elevation change with some unique elements like a crossing bridge "Swinging Bridge" from clubhouse to 9 green right that towers behind the 18th green.
Surprisingly, at least to us, the course is a walking course which also slows down the pace and enriches the playing experience. The caddies also encompass a friendly spirit helping you stay optimistic about your game and enjoying the group camaraderie.
Go big off hole 1 with amble room to bomb a drive off the elevated tee box and simplify the approach. Actually go big off every hole the course is has generous landing areas with only a few hidden tricks that your caddie or member will point out. The front 9 cruises by extremely quickly with a memorable long skinny tunnel walk under the old Hilton mansion and ends with an elevator ride back to the clubhouse.
The back nine starts off in style with a challenging uphill par 3. The tee box is nestled by the clubhouse and you hit over a canyon with the swinging bridge to your left. You than continue to wind through the adjoining canyons with beautifully crafted hole routing and ample views of the gorgeous and massive Bel-Air mansions. Make sure to stop to grab a tasty burger or two at the halfway house and a fresh libation never hurts; and throw in a few $ for the longest ball throw down the 16th to 17th stone walking path.
Overall the course is fun and scorable if your playing well. Your biggest challenges will likely come through undulated ball lies, and dialing in approach distances to elevated greens and longer puts.
A must is the 19th hole porch that sits behind the first tee box with incredible views of LA. As aforementioned make preparations to spend time after the round to join the members for drinks, snack, and conversations. We were invited to stick around for dinner which we gladly accepted and allowed us to hang out late into the night with a fun group of lively personalities exchanging friendly banter for the upcoming membership tournament.
WYLD1 provides a solid Go Big total experience recommendation for Bel-Air!
GO BIG HOLES
1, 2, 8, 9, 10, 14, 17, 18
ON THE LINKS
Ballyneal was founded by the O'Neal brothers who purchased 700 acres of farmland to augment their family hunting club. They hired famed course designer Tom Doak in 2002 to begin to conceptualize the course routing. The course was opened in 2006 and it quickly earned many accolades including Golf Digest top 100 courses in US and world.
Located outside of Holyoak, Ballyneal is the Field of Dreams of golf hidden deep in Eastern Colorado farmland.
Ballyneal is a small private club with modern lodging and dinning facilities. There are two courses on the property including an 18 hole championship course and a par 3, and a expansive putting green. Growing membership had led to a recent addition of several really nice new cottages that are great for group or family with four separate bedrooms, a common living area and porch. The dinning facility includes a bar, indoor and outdoor general seating and a private dinning room. The menu has plenty of tasty options with a satisfying wine list.
The course plays as described "a true inland links course" with fescue, tight lies, penalizing bunkers, and constant wind. Doak designed interesting routing that blends well with the hilly landscape and provides a variety of different hole layouts.
While in general the course is forgiving it is also equally challenging. To score low you need to stay in the fairways and control approaches into greens to eliminate long, downhill or heavily undulated putting paths or tight lie chips. The second and third cut will often leave you tough lies with ball nestled between grass or sand clumps. The surrounding natural sandy landscape is never flat and has a variety of desert vegetation that will force you to make tough decisions on how to advance your shot (often better taking your medicine and just getting the ball back to the short grass). There are many risk reward paths with drivable par 4s that add some juice to a group competition or betting match.
The course is a walking course that over multiple rounds, especially 36 hole days, will tire your legs. Caddies are available and are recommended for your initial round to better understand the routing, blind shots, approach angles and putting reads.
Lastly what adds to the overall experience at Bally is the membership laid back club code. A clock never seems present and the escape from civilization mixed with the never ending skyline, farmland views and an expansive course layout provides plenty of time to relax the mind and bond with friends. There are multiple tee boxes with no tee markers so you chose your path and a different path every round. Yes, the course doesn't have an official tees so there is no slope rating encouraging you to go out and just have fun since scores aren't recorded for handicaps.
WYLD1 strongly encourages you to take the remote trek to Eastern Colorado and give Bally a run!
GO BIG HOLES
2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 13, 16, 18
ON THE LINKS
Sometimes in order to find new ground one has to make the pilgrimage to significant old ground. With this in mind the WYLD1 crew set out on an epic golf adventure to Scotland "The Birthplace of Golf" to experience true Links golf firsthand on wickedly old historic courses; better understand the heritage of the sport; test our wills in the battle against the elements; enjoy a new culture; and have 19th hole wild adventures with friends. Simply said Scotland didn't disappoint.
It is widely believed through pieced together incomplete documents the modern game of golf originated in Scotland in the High Middle Ages. We are not historians by any means but what we did uncover is an interesting perspective to some of the first recordings of the game of golf. Golf found its way into an Act of of Scots Parliament in 1457 stating that football and golf (also listed in other documents as gowf, gowff, gouf, gouff) were to be prohibited and those caught playing were to be punished by the courts or arrested by the Kings Officers. Yes, you would have been a rebel if you were sneaking out to play golf back in the days!
Golf in Scotland has come a long way since its rocky start to being a centerpiece of the country with worldly iconic appeal. While the fundamentals of the modern game are now shared throughout the world, golfing in Scotland looks and feels different.
First the looks. The courses are not overly manicured so the lands natural elements are always in play and visible...often beautiful with the coast line and ocean. The lies are tight, the ground is hard, the gorse is nasty, holes are often side-by-side, the turns are often far from the start, and the famous bunkers can be a true penalty. Its no walk in the park but if you love a challenge there is nothing more gratifying.
And the feel. Its magical. There is energy and a spirit that immediately hits you on the first tee and it doesn't wear off. You are focused but relaxed allowing you to take it all in. Walking adds a great underrated dimensions we miss with cart golf which is a closer connection to the course and environment, and individual time to take in the experience and focus on your game.
And we can't skip the off the course cultural immersion. The Scotts are great. We chose to hub out of Edinburgh and St. Andrews with a one-night stay at Turnberry. The dinner and night life were vibrant with plenty of dinning options to meet any desires (Haggis was a big hit). The people were welcoming, nice and great conversationalist. Make sure to hit the Dunvegan in St. Andrews for a memorable 19th hole that often lasted late into the night. Did we mention the other marvelous Scottish invention? Yes, Scotch whiskey. Make sure to sample the wide variety of Scotch to enliven and refine your whiskey palette and provide a solid late night boost.
Planning is a key element to a successful Scotland trip. We chose to partner with Grasphopper Golf Tours to help with our Scotland trip logistics. A tour operator is not a necessity but it will help ensure the details are dialed which is critical with group travel. If you are planning your own trip we would highly recommend reading other peoples travel guides to get a better grasp or desired courses, travel routes and bases to reduce driving and increase playing time. Although Scotland is not an massive country the courses are spread out with notable driving times between key areas. If you also have the ability to share a van with a driver this can reduce stress of learning to drive on the opposite side; provide additional enjoyment of viewing the countryside; and just hanging and sharing a few beers with friends.
If you're traveling with a group we would also recommend setting up a few different competitions that occur throughout the trip to add to the enjoyment and enliven the smack talk. Our normal course of competition action includes:
- Overall Gross and Net leaders
- Daily Gross and Net leaders
- Special prize daily team or individual competitions where the field pays for a nice souvenir that can be worn for many years to remind your opponents of your victory
- Standard daily four-some games
- And always encouraged side-bet individual competitions to settle who is the better player and stimulate fun 19th hole chirps
We selected Glasgow for our entry/exit point. There are a lot of flight options into Glasgow allowing our group to select different airline providers and routes. Keep in mind if traveling from the US you will likely have a layover based out of an East Coast airport and the flight to Glasgow is normally overnight and short which is nice but the sleep will be limited.
From Glasgow we immediately headed to historic Preswick Golf Club for our first round. Preswick allowed to us to play an older course with significant history; its close to the airport reducing ground transportation time; and its not long so we could walk off the jet lag without getting overly tired from a long round. We would highly recommend if you have an overnight flight to tough out a round the morning you arrive. Exercising and going outside helps to reduce jet lag hanging around and you get an extra round in during your trip.
Preswick Golf Club is a classic links course located about 30min outside of Glasgow in Preswick, South Ayrshire. It is the course where the Open Championship originated and was played there 24 times (second only to the Old Course) from 1860 to 1925. It is also home of Old Tom Morris and where Young Tom Morris won four consecutive opens between 1868 to 1872. So yes it has a lot of historic relevance to golf.
The club was founded in 1851 but golf was played there for years before. It was originally a short 12 hole course and redesigned in 1882 to the new standard of 18 holes with crossing routes eliminated. The 18 hole redesign maintained several of the green and original holes which you can still play today.
Preswick Golf Club is private but is open to visitors booking tee times.
It is a short course that has maintained its historic feel with the River Pow running through the property, various sand hills, blind shots and a famous monster bunker named "Cardinal". Position and short game are the key to low scores on this course. It is a great course to start to get you excited about the history of golf in Scotland and hone in the game after travel.
From Preswick we headed directly to Turnberry to spend the night.
Turnberry is located in the Firth of Cycle in South Ayrshire. The course was originally built in 1901 as a 13 hole golf course. The beautiful hotel was soon built in 1906. The property was shutdown in World War I and used as an airbase with a landing strip that still exists. The property again served as an airbase during World War II with the hotel serving as a hospital. MacKenzie Ross redesigned and built the Ailsa course with it reopening in 1951. It was redseisnged abagin in 2015 by Martin Ebert. Turnberry has hosted The Open Championship four times with the latest in 2009. One of its most famed Open matches that you may recall was called "Duel in the Sun" between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. The property has two other courses: Kintyre Course and Arran Course.
You are immediately struck when entering the property of the grand hotel overlooking the property. The newly remodeled hotel is also beautiful inside with luxury dinning and rooms that help ensure you get a great first night of sleep. When you wake up in the morning you walk down the grand staircase providing fantastic views of the property, coast line and course. It immediately revs you up for the upcoming round.
Turnberry is one of the few courses with a complete practice facility including a driving range. Many courses in Scotland don't posses practice areas so if you want to dial in your swing this is the place to do it.
As with most courses in Scotalnd you are required to walk and you have the choice of a caddy, bag trolley or carrying your own clubs. Turnberry has some tricky layouts and features so if you have dough for a caddy we would recommend.
The Alisa course was in excellent shape and well manicured. The sun was present but the wind was howling during our round making the course very challenging, especially on longer holes into wind and strong cross winds around the cape. If you have the ability to hit a low ball in Scotland it is a notable advantage and something to work on before the trip. If you have ball control issues this is a course where you may need to bring extras. Overall the course was fair with most challenges viewable and only a few areas where local knowledge is needed to effectively navigate. Take a few extra minutes around the cape to walk to the Lighthouse and capture the views.
The WYLD1 crew enjoyed the round even with crazy high winds and would recommend adding it to a Scotland golf itinerary.
After finishing our round at Turnberry we headed to Edinburgh to base out of for two nights.
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and second most populous city in Scotland. We stayed close to the Edinburgh castle in old town. This was an ideal location for quick sightseeing walks, dinning and nightlife. Make sure to talk a walk up to the castle for great views of the city.
The next morning we headed out to Muirfield home of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in Gullane, East Lothian.
Who is the group that calls themselves The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and how is Muirfield connected to them? Great question. They are the oldest validated organized golf club in the world established in 1744 and developed the thirteen rules of golf. So yes they hold the right to call themselves an Honourable Company.
And why do they reside at Muirfield? Simply because they built it for themselves in 1891 and brought in legendary Old Tom Morris to design it. While it has undergone minor renovations it has largely remained untouched since 1920...that is standing the test of time.
Muirfield remains a private club and hosted The Open Championship sixteen times. Phil Mickleson was the most recently Murfield Open Championship winner in 2013.
We were incredible excited to play this course so everyone was very energetic in morning despite a few too many late night libations. Murfield has strict dress policy so we were all suited up to gain access to the clubhouse in order to quickly change for our upcoming round.
The round had a rough start with heavy wind and snow. Yes snow. Luckily we were all pumped and charged through the rough weather to have an incredible round with the weather dissipating and sun appearing.
The course is a different layout compared to most of the other Scotland courses that normally take you out for nine holes than in for nine holes. Murfield is setup as clockwise and anticlockwise loops. The course uses the land and natural elements as its defense and with changing directions of the holes the wind affect is harder to gauge. The long fescue beautifully lining the holes can be very difficult to further progress your next shot or hit short shots near green. The course also has a decent amount of elevation change adding complexity with accurately judging distance and approaches. Like most Scotland golf courses using the ground is advantageous. The putter can be used for much longer shots from fairway with a great deal of success and ability to avoid tight touchy pitch shots that are difficult to also judge speed on the hard greens. The course also has a few longer holes with generous landing areas so you can rip the big stick which is fun!
One of the best and memorable parts of Muirfield is the ability to enjoy lunch with members at the clubhouse and play another 18 of Alternate Shot in the afternoon. Again dress code is required within the clubhouse so we needed to get suited up again for hearty lunch and a few sips of grandpas cough medicine.
There aren't that many opportunities to play Alternate Shot but it is a ton of fun and we setup a larger match against all two man teams in our group which made for a lively round.
After an incredible and always memorable 36 hole experience at Muirfield we headed back to Edinburgh to fire it up for the evening.
We woke up the next morning packed up and headed out from Edinburgh to North Berwick, a seaside town in East Lothian. None of us knew much about North Berwick and we arrived at the course with lower expectations coming off our Muirfield high.
Lucky for us North Berwick was not a letdown. The golf club was established in 1832 with the new club house being built in 1880 and acquisition of the links closely following in 1894. The West Links course has gone through several phased expansions overtime to before reaching its current 18 hole layout in 1895 with additional redesign by Ben Sayers in 1932. Since than it largely remained unchanged with minor updates.
We had near perfect weather conditions with sun and minimal wind. The course was fun, challenging and score-able if you're on your A game. It has great views of the coast, Fidra and Bass Rock. The natural landscape melds together well with the course layout and can present challenges if you go wayward. While accuracy is important it is also forgiving so you can open up the entire arsenal without regrets. Holes 13-15 are the signature holes with some unique obstacles including a wall surrounding a sunken green. Hole 18 is a great hole to rip a big drive and try to finish with a bang.
Its not a big name course with a history of holding championships but it is a recommended course to play if it aligns with your travel route.
After wrapping up late lunch at the clubhouse we jumped back into our van and headed to our next highly anticipated base of St. Andrews.
Home sweet home of golf. St Andrews is a small town on the east coast of Fife with a population of 17K. Rightfully named after a Saint (Saint Andrew the Apostle) it has a uplifting spiritual feel the minute you arrive. In addition the the legendary golf courses it is also the home of the University of St Andrews with nearly a third of the population attending the school. We based out of hotel next to the Old Course for close proximity to golfing, sight seeing walks, dinning and pubs. The location was great and would recommend if you can find an opening at one of the hotels near this proximity.
Make sure to make some time to walk around the many courses based out of St Andrews and the town of St Andrews.
THE OLD COURSE
The first thing you need to plan is how to get onto The Old Course. There is a variety of methods (advance reservations, ballots, wait in daily queue for openings, packages, reserved slots for authorized providers, and being a guest of member). We setup a flexible schedule while based out St Andrews to submit ballots and when selected we could adjust the tee times at other courses. Over half of the tee times granted come through Ballots so your chances are good but not guaranteed (which happened to us). Half of our group got picked for ballots and the other half waited in the daily queue to try to secure a spot which luckily worked out. Make sure to get in the queue really early (4am) to increase likelihood of securing a tee time.
The Old Course is referred to as the "Cathedral of Golf" and the oldest course in the world with play first occurring in the early 15th century. The first organized golf group (Society of St Andrews Golfers) connected to St Andrews was formed in 1774 which later evolved into the Royal and Ancient who now governs golf everywhere outside of US.
The course designs leveraged multiple minds throughout the years as it evolved from a single shared track of fairways to separated in and out holes. The two architects with influence were Daw Anderson in the 1850's and again Old Tom Morris in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The course also had different configurations including 22 holes in 1774 that were eventually consolidated to the 18 hole track played today in 1863. It has been home to twenty nine Open Championships!
It is a public course held in trust by the St Andrews Links Trust. While the public has access many clubs have playing privileges including the R&A, St Andrews Golf Club, St Regulus Golf Club, and New Golf Club.
The first tee experience is something you will never forget. The setting seems like a dream since you have seen it majestically captured in The Open Championship many times. Everyone waiting to get called to the first tee is smiling and beaming with energy. When you are on the tee there is normally a large group of people overlooking. And finally its your turn. Take it all in and don't rush. Take a few practice swings, visualize your shot, step up, breath in and rip a good one.
The Old Course is special and you feel its history throughout the round. It won't be the most difficult track you play which also adds to the fun as there are plenty of scoring opportunities. There is a lot of people on the course so play speed is marshaled but still slow. Wind is a strong defense for the course and it was blowing hard when we played so lower ball flight was advantageous.
When heading out and in you can often play it safe by favoring the left side of the course that borders other holes. It is not long so you don't need to crush it but it is largely forgiving so you can play a driver to make short approaches. The double greens are a fun experience seeing a large group on the green putting in different directions toward respective holes. There are troublesome bunkers throughout the course that are largely easy to avoid if you can control your flight and distance.
You will relish the final few holes of the round and they will leave you even more energized than when you started. Don't hold back on the 17th Road Hole and cut the corner over the replica railway shed. It will also help shorten the approach onto a difficult green with the nasty Hell Bunker. Heading in on 18 you will get to walkover the iconic 700 year old Swilcan Bridge. Make sure to stop and take a picture before heading to your tee shot. The 18th Tom Morris hole is not long so there is no need to crush it unless you want to show off for the crowd likely by the 18th green. You can also heavily favor the left side taking advantage of the hole 1 fairway.
We agree this is one of the greatest courses in the world and its a must play for any avid golfer. Finishing the round and swapping stories at the 19th hole is treasured moment.
THE CASTLE COURSE
The Castle Course was just outside St Andrews and a very short drive from our hotel. It is the newest of the seven St Andrews courses. It was opened in 2008, six years after the St Andrews trust purchased the land. We were particularly interested in this course since it was constructed by Davide McLay Kidd who also served as architect on several of the Bandon Dunes courses that we regularly play.
The course is built atop cliffs with expansive of oceanfront exposure and picturesque scenery including a great view of St Andrews town. It has a modern links design that is notable different than the traditional Scotland links courses and provides a nice complimentary change of play that not surprisingly had elements that reminded us of Bandon Dunes. Its setup as two loops that base out of the clubhouse with substantial elevation change that adds complexity and fun.
In addition to elevation change the course has undulated elements running throughout the holes that can put you in tough spots and play tricks with your mind. The final three hole stretch runs along the coastline with a make a break 17th hole on the edge of the cliffs that requires a precision shot over a ravine. The 18th hole will also get the blood pumping. It will challenge all aspects of your game so be prepared for battle.
If you're basing out of St Andrews for several days we would recommend the Castle Course to add to your agenda. We played it in the early morning and than headed to Carnoustie in the afternoon so it was a great warmup to ensure you are in prime shape before staring down Carnasty.
CARNOUSTIE OR CARNASTY?
This was another course with high pre-trip anticipation. Carnoustie is a small town in Angus which is easily drivable for a day trip from St Andrews. Golf was first played on the Carnoustie in the 16th century. The initial course was opened in 1842 and consisted of ten holes that played over the Barry Burn. The initial architects were Allan Roberstons and Old Tom Morris (This guy was on it when it came to course design). The entry of the railway required another update led by Old Tom Morris in 1867 expanding the course to the 18 holes. The course was last updated in 1926 by James Braid and has had many updates but largely kept its 1926 routing to present. It has hosted 8 Open Championships dating back to 1931 with the most recent in 2018. There are a number of great stories of the courses ability to monumentally test and taketh from the best players in the world. Make sure to look up the story of Jean van de Velde 18th hole Barry Burn adventure.
We felt we were well prepared for the legendary Carnoustie dirtiness after honing our game for Scottish links; getting challenged by the elements; and sufficiently testing our long and position golf course strategies. We were partly right as Carnasty has plenty of its own unique defense mechanisms. The greens were more undulated and faster and required greater precision with approaches using the land features. There are a few tight landing areas spread throughout that were guarded with spirit crushing bunkers. The fescue was very thick in places making misses quickly turn into fighting for bogeys. Last and highly touted the burns are ever present and instant death.
So was it fun? Hell yes. We love the fabled challenge that has been faced by the best and taken down the best in spectacular fashion. It was a true physical and emotional test that did find a club rendered useless after a Bo Jackson bat like snap over the quads. It had numerous people scared in the group they were going to be receiving the high-man dunce cap for the trip and denouncing the golf course as ridiculous. A little humbling does a soul good and makes for great stories we will share for the rest of our lives. Make it happen!
Important side note: its dry. Pack a flask if you need some liquid courage or liquid sorrow relief to help with a tough track.
Our final morning of golf was at Kingsbarns which is a short drive from our base in St Andrews. It is located near Kingsbarns conservation village close to the east coast of Fife.
Golf has been a long tradition at Kingsbarns where the Kingsbarns Golfing society was established in 1793. Subsequently Kingsbarns Golf Club was founded in 1922 as a nine hole golf course but shut down in 1939 for war farming support. In 2000 Kingsbarns Golf Links opened with design architecture led by Kyle Phillips. The course quickly gained accolades by golfers around the world with many high world rankings.
The reason for this high ranking is over 1.8 miles of stunning links coastline play. The course has some grit with numerous challenging holes that utilize coastline, length, bunkers, elevation and wind ammunition. It is also fair and playable but highly advantageous to have a caddie to help navigate with local knowledge on ideal plays and green reading.
The signature 12th hole is a par five smooth dog leg left that wraps around the coastline to your left with a massive green that can easily yield a 3-hike. Its length is 606 yards but with some strong wind it will seem like 800+ yards. It is a course that you will be able to recall every-hole and the shots you played with several oceanfront holes that will likely stay in your memories a lot longer.
If you're in St Andrews Kingsbarns is a must add to the trip itinerary.
THATS A WRAP
As aforementioned, Scotland didn't disappoint. We didn't want to leave this golfing mecca despite us being insanely tired from making a strong charge to get as much golf in as possible; walking a crazy amount of miles; and pushing the sleep boundaries to ensure our wyld sides fully embraced the enjoyable Scottish off-course culture.
We hope this trip recap will INSPYRE you to Find New Ground and make this requisite golfing pilmgrage a reality.
Gamble Sands came up on our radars a few years back after receiving the #1 public golf course rating in Washington as well as many other high national ratings and accolades. It also raised a little more excitement when learning it was designed to be a true links course designed by David McLay Kidd who had already won our golfing hearts at Bandon.
It is located near Brewster city in Okanogan County, North Central Washington. Having never traveled to this part of the country I didn't know what to expect and was rather surprised. It is a high arid desert setting that is drastically different from Western Washington.
The course is owned by the Gebbers family whom oversee a massive orchard production in the area. They originally started the Gamble Sands project with a master 36 hole plan that first included the Gamble Cliffs course but was halted development when the recession hit in 2008. In 2010 when they decided to re-initiate the project they chose to build The Sands course open today.
To get to Gamble Sands we flew into Spokane and rented a car. Plan for close to a 3 hour drive through a mixture of visually pleasant landscapes. As aforementioned, the Gebbers run a major orchard production and you will pass through a few of these orchards as you approach the course. Since the drive took a little more time than expected we had to quickly change and get a few swings on the range to work out the travel stiffness. And than its game on!
The Sands Course is sand based (hence the name) with light fescue, large firm fairways and greens, and plenty of desert scrub and natural bunkers. The elevated setup provides specular views of the Columbia river, Cascade mountains, and valley.
We played three rounds on the course and enjoyed every moment. It is a fun player friendly course with scoreable layout including generous fairways and greens. It also includes shorter holes with driveable par 4s which adds a lot of drama in gambling competitions with multipliers for eagles and birdies.
Trouble can be found with some massive bunkers, tight lies and drop offs. Length comes into play from tips where you need to carry over trenches and will have harder approaches into several protected holes. The 6th hole par 3 from the tips was over 260 yards and required placement abilities if you wanted a high probability par. The good news is you can use the slope on the right to funnel onto green.
Other signature holes included hole #2 a drivable par 4 with killer views down the valley. Make sure to take a rip for the green. Hole #7 par 5 with a classic risk/reward angle options. If you take the risk angle the approach shot is a short-to mid iron shot in with excellent eagle opportunity. On the back nine hole #14 par 4 is another fun option oriented hole with double-fairway providing differing degrees of angles into the green.
For the first round we selected the golf boards which was fun but they can be a little squirrelly on the hills with undulated paths requiring tight turns and bump navigation. Definitely give them a run if you haven tried them.
Another interesting element of Gamble Sands being near orchards is the sound of gun fire regularly occurring in the background. Don't worry nobody is shooting at you, it is fake recorded gun shot sounds through speakers to scare away wildlife from the orchard and it is not loud or cause a distraction when focusing.
We stayed at the Inn at Gamble Sands which is fantastic modern rustic setup with the Cascade putting course right behind and incredible views of the Columbia River. The Club House is near by with Danny Boy restaurant that served plenty of satisfying options for dinner and lunch.
We were informed they are in the process of building a second course that will also be designed by David McLay Kidd. The addition of a second course will add value in having additional options for multiple day trips to this remote location.
Find New Ground and take the WYLD1 suggestion to gamble it all at Gamble Sands.
GO BIG HOLES
2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 13, 15, 18
ON THE LINKS
Entering on this corner of the ring the reigning golf champion Bandon "The Real Deal" Dunes with 5 knock out courses; 2 courses rated in top 10 US Public courses; 4 courses rated in top 20 US Public Courses; 4 courses rated in top US Courses; 2 courses in top 100 in World; top ranking in US Golf Resorts; 4 courses ranked in top 25 US Modern Golf Courses; and top ranking in US Top Short Golf Courses. Those are some serious accolades and its all in one killer location along the Oregon coastline with great facilities and high service levels. Its hard to challenge the champ.
The WYLD1™ group has been going to Bandon for many years and we immediately reserve the next year trip before departing the facility without second thought.
Knowing we are biased for good reason, personal experience, what makes Bandon one of golfs most sacred jewels? Duh..its unbelievable golf but it does go deeper.
Lets start off with the golf. Bandon is relatively new when looking at the long history of golf. This is an advantage as the game has evolved as well as the people who play the game and their expectations and realities of busy modern life.
Bandon opened in 1999. The vision was led by founder and owner Mike Keiser who had a very simple philosophy with 3 pillars: great, on the ocean and great architecture. Seems simple and it has proven to be a great formula but at the beginning there was uncertainty if Bandon was going to thrive.
The first course that opened was Bandon Dunes designed by David McClay Kidd. If you read our other articles you will see his name regularly appears for good reason, we like him a lot! The course received a high ranking from the get go and maintains high ratings in the US and world. Bandon Dunes is a true links golf course with holes on the coast and views of the ocean throughout. It is playable course with generous fairways and large greens with mild undulation. The course can show you grit if the wind is in play, you venture wayward or get trapped in one of its deep bunkers. Although the course is relatively young it has undergone revisions to ensure is greatness and continued standing as a Classic.
Pacific Dunes was the second course added to the mix in 2001. Mike Keiser selected Tom DoaK to lead the architecture charge. Bandon Dunes was immediate hit but Pacific Dunes garnered even higher rankings. One element that makes it unique that Doak references in his design notes is the courses unique routing, consecutive par threes, and the back nine had four part threes and two par fours. Luckily he got the blessing to proceed and the result was highly rewarded. It is a links course that also has coastline holes and terrific ocean views. The course is also very playable with plenty of holes you can unleash the driver. However, to score low strong course management is needed as there are plenty of areas where disaster can quickly strike and approach angles greatly improve likelihood of birdies and pars. The wind can also play a major role on Pacific Dunes scoring with head and cross-winds significantly changing your club selection and angles.
The next strategic move was adding Bandon Trails in 2005 with course design led by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. If you are seeking a change of scenery from oceanfront links you get it at Bandon Trails. The course quickly takes you through a adventure starting in huge sand dunes to open meadows to heavy forest and back to sand dunes with plenty of elevation change. It is a challenging track that requires additional precision to score but overall has generous landing areas. While it is usually ranks lowest of groups priorities when visiting Bandon in our opinion it is requisite to fulfill the complete Bandon experience and would likely receive a much higher course rating if situated in a different location without direct comparisons to its distinct oceanfront companions.
The KO was one step closer when they added Old McDonald in 2015 with Tom Doak and Jim Urbina taking architecture charge. The course is named and inspired by a legendary design Charles Blair Macdonald. It is a grand old course with massive greens, fairways and bunkers. The driver is a must and can be ripped throughout the round but doesn't directly relate to your scoring. While the large greens provide favorable looks they need to be smartly navigated or the dreaded three put will strike. It has holes where elevation comes into play, blind shots are also going to be faced and several bunkers are really dirty. For group competitions Old Mac is hard to beat as everyone is usually in play and scoring opportunities are always lurking.
And BAM the 5th round KO was achieved with the addition of The Sheep Ranch in 2020. The mysterious Sheep Ranch is the smallest and shortest Bandon course at 140 acres and 6,400 yards. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are the architects behind this new course building on a unique history of the land where 13 greens were previously sitting designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina. The land was purchased in 2000 by Mike Keiser and Phil Friedmann and sat sparingly used by select groups of golfers given permission to play. It has magical contours and unbelievable coastal views. The course has many unique attributes including no sand traps, 9 greens along the cliffside, distinctive routing and a tee that allows you to cut diagonally over the cliffs to reach the fairway. Wind is the primary defense and with the constant change in routing every shot requires thought on how to play for the wind. When calm scoring opportunities are plentiful with many short holes.
Now that we are clear that the golf is covered lets talk about some of the other greatness found at Bandon Dunes. First, you can completely relax when on the property. Shuttles are almost instantaneously available to whisk you around the property. The rooms are not lavish but modern and comfortable. There are six dining and drinking facilities so you can move around for a change of scenery and taste. The clubhouse also has the "bunker room" for late night libations and games; as well as a fitness facility. The practice facility is top-notch. The Preserve Par 3 is amazing. And there is a humongous putting green "Punch Bowl" to hone your putting or partake in fun competitions with "green service" drinks being delivered.
Bandon also doesn't allow carts so you are going to be walking a lot which has several significant benefits. The first is obvious actual exercise to keep the blood pumping. The second and should be viewed as equally important is the metaphysical ability to take it all in. See and think in peace; enjoy time with friends; be absorbed by majestic scenery; and establish laser focus on your golf game.
So if this wasn't enough to convince you the KO was successfully delivered. A fifth course is in the works. The Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch will open in 2020 with lead design shared between Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. It will have speculator views with one mile of coastline!
Bandon is The Real Deal!
ON THE LINKS